DIY Disaster Doctor: Home Improvement “Break Through”


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Tom Krauetler

What’s the fastest way to get to the front door from the second floor? Through the ceiling! While replacing the floor in an upstairs bathroom, this homeowner momentarily forgot the age-old carpenter’s adage for strolls among exposed floor joists: Always walk on wood!

Thanks to a step in the wrong direction during this bathroom remodel, ceiling repair and repainting are now on this homeowner’s to-do list. Patching over the damage is pretty simple. But after the ceiling escape hatch is filled, they’ll need to repaint the entire ceiling surface that surrounds it.

1. Begin by expanding the opening to make an even square or rectangular shape that reaches the next-nearest ceiling joist. The goal here is for the trimmed-away area to reach halfway across that ceiling joist so that you have a nailing edge for the new piece of drywall you’ll install as a patch.

2. Next, cut a piece of drywall to fit the new opening. This drywall patch should match the thickness of the surrounding ceiling sheetrock (usually half an inch). But if your patch is slightly thinner, you can always use shims to make up the difference. Install the patch using drywall screws, driving them in just until they make a very slight dimple in the drywall surface.

3. Begin the patch’s disappearing act by covering all seams with drywall tape. Drywall tape is available in paper or fiberglass mesh, and I recommend the latter because it’s far easier to work with thanks to a self-adhesive surface and simple-to-smooth format. (Unless you are particularly skilled, the paper tape tends to trap air bubbles during adhesion with joint compound).

4. Once you’ve covered all edges of the opening with drywall tape, start a series of spackling rounds, beginning with an application using a 4″ putty knife and layer of joint compound. Apply a thin layer that just barely covers the drywall tape, and after it has dried, sand the area to a smooth finish. Be warned that the sanding routine is messy?you’ll want to protect yourself with a filtering mask and isolate the surrounding area with plastic.

After going two more rounds with the spackling and sanding using progressively larger spackling knives for the joint compound application (six-inch and then eight-inch; low-cost plastic spackling knives can save you a few dollars), it’s time to paint the ceiling surface.

For the best, smoothest, nothing-ever-happened-here result, follow these simple interior painting tips: prepare the entire ceiling area to be painted with a light sanding and cleaning. Next, equip yourself with high-quality rollers or brushes and apply a coat of primer to the entire ceiling space, not just the patched area. The reason is that the new drywall will absorb paint differently than the old ceiling, resulting in a different sheen. By priming the entire surface, you’ll be assured of an even top-coat that hides all evidence of the misstep that began this entire home improvement misadventure.

When it comes to the final finish, use a paint formulated specifically for ceilings (it’ll be thicker and less likely to drip than wall paint), and choose a flat sheen that will absorb light rather than reflect it. Otherwise, you’ll end up throwing a perpetual hallway spotlight on that foot-through-ceiling episode.

Skill Level?
Definitely DIY. You got yourself into this mess and we’re confident you can DIY your way out!

Tom Kraeutler delivers home improvement tips and ideas each week as host of The Money Pit Home Improvement Show, a nationally syndicated radio program. He is also author of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure. You can also subscribe to Tom’s latest home improvement podcast or free home improvement newsletter.

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